Before you get the wrong idea, let me just come out and say it: Jab We Met is a cute little film with its own charm and verve, and there are worse ways to spend 3 hours in a cinema hall. I needed to get that out of the way, you see, because Imtiaz Ali's second film is not without its flaws, and I absolutely didn't want to take away from what he got right. Again.
Many of you wouldn't remember the 2005 charmer Socha Na Tha
, Imtiaz Ali's debut. The film was absolutely refreshing - a romantic comedy with real characters, class, and yes, comedy. This was a film I freely recommend to people looking for a Sunday morning film. Both the leads were completely natural, and I felt Ali's slice of life filmmaking a far cry from the style followed by the House of Chopra.
Herein, as they say, lies the rub. While Ali has kept his own touch of the real intact, with some top-notch writing and well-etched characters, he has gone ahead and tried to Chopra-fy the film. There are pretty locales, songs just for the heck of it, and most importantly, a great big family. While he was spot on in getting the Mumbai milieu right the first time, this time his North-Indian jaunts are peppered with a little fake saccharine.
But he has kept his natural dialog intact, and his writing - coupled with a few very good performances - keep the film firmly on ground. The story is utter fluff, of course. Aditya (Shahid Kapoor) is a young business scion who is disillusioned with life following his company's troubles and his personal ones. One day, when he attends his girlfriend's wedding with someone else, he snaps and just ups and leaves.
Wandering aimlessly, he boards a train, and meets Geet (Kareena Kapoor), an incessantly chatty girl full of wide-eyed innocence. This is what Ali does best, too: these characters do not behave in any way Bollywood would have them behave. They are real people, not the caricatures most films need to resort to. The innocent are not too innocent, and the disillusioned don't just keep on snapping at everyone.
A silly mistake later, they end up missing their train, and take a journey to Geet's hometown, Bhatinda. Once there, Geet promptly (well, no - a lot of singing and dancing later) runs off to elope with her boyfriend Anshuman, taking Aditya's help. Aditya, obviously, is in love with the girl by now. He drops her off in Manali, and comes back home, changed into a new man, ready to face his problems.
This was just the first half, by the way. You see? Ali crams his film with more story than your usual films, fluff or not. The film mirrors itself in the second half, when Aditya finds out that Geet has been living in Shimla, still trying to convince her boyfriend to take her back. It's his newfound zest for life and her newfound depression that force them to take another journey together.
This is very interestingly set up and executed, as clues - big and small - keep on letting us know that the second half is, like I said, the absolute mirror of the first thematically. Ali has some fun with the characters before he lets them be together of course, but his catharsis becomes ours as he races towards the end.
Despite the things that click, there are things that go wrong, too - the low budget roots of the film show in some sloppy sets here and there. While the production remains top-notch most of the times, a few more bones and it would have been much more pleasing. The acting of course is perfectly balanced, but Shahid does have a penchant to go into Shahrukh territory once in a while - something this film definitely does not belong to.
The songs, oh God, the songs! Every time they appear, you roll up your eyes and pray for them to get over. They are not bad songs, or badly choreographed, mind. They just... get in the way. Of the story, the characters, and most of all the suspension of disbelief, something Ali excels in most of the times.
Another failing is something I suppose the actors couldn't handle, but that the director should have noted. While the stoically boring Aditya has a foil in Geet always, when Geet tumbles into sad territory, Aditya is not much of a happy character to provide a decent foil.
I really hope the film had a better sense of the background score, too, despite the minimalist approach that works most of the time. And the star power of Kareena and Shahid means that the film divulges too long to be a film that does not care about its secondary characters at all. Criminal almost, as Pavan Malhotra and Dara Singh are brilliant in their small parts.
I really could go on, trying to balance the good versus the bad, but you ought to see this for yourself. This is not an earth-shattering must-watch, but a sweet little Sunday morning film. This is not big screen entertainment, but a film that entertains nonetheless. Go without any expectations and you'll have a good time. And that little after-taste that you feel in your mouth? That's just the slight Chopra sheen that doesn't fit. Spit it out, and savor the actual film.